THREE days after it declared the municipality of Butig in Lanao del Sur as “100 percent cleared” of terrorists, the military is still not allowing residents to go back to their respective houses as “sweeping” operations are still ongoing for booby traps, landmines and unexploded bombs, a military official said on Sunday.
“We are not yet allowing civilians to return to their respective residences and we hope they would understand that because we are still continuing to clear all the unexploded ordnance including booby traps and landmines and possible IEDs [improvised explosive devices],” said Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Affairs Office.
He disclosed that additional K9 bomb sniffing dogs have been sent to the area to augment the military’s explosives ordnance unit and hasten the search for unexploded bombs.
The military advised the residents to let the military finish its job before returning to their homes for their own safety.
At present, the AFP official said military officials are talking to residents and are trying to enlist their cooperation by reporting any movements of the terrorist Maute group that occupied Butig on November 25 prompting the military to launch an all-out offensive.
“Their [residents]contribution is very important because they are the ones who knew the people who should not be in the area in the first place. They are the ones who have the capability to report to the authorities if there are armed men seeking shelter. We are conducting monitoring but it would be best if we can get their cooperation,” Arevalo explained.
The firefight lasted for six days that resulted in the killing of 61 Maute fighters and the wounding of 12 other jihadists.
At least 35 soldiers including seven members of the Presidential Security Group were wounded.
The PSG members were in Marawi City to coordinate security for President Rodrigo Duterte who was scheduled to visit the troops when they were attacked by supporters of Maute after a roadside bombing a day before the President’s visit.
Arevalo said Col. Roseller Murillo, commander of the Philippine Army’s 103rd Brigade, has recommended the setting up of a military base or camp in the area that was previously occupied by the extremist group.